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Where to Try Sake and Seafood in New York City

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You already know that sushi and sake are a match made in heaven, so it’s no surprise that this specialty rice brew also pairs beautifully with all different kinds of seafood. Sake’s wide range of aromas and flavor profiles find an occasion for almost every type of seafood, from briny oysters and pan-seared sole to umami-sweet black miso cod and brightly red steamed lobster.

Nancy Cushman — a certified Advanced Sake Professional for o ya, Covina, Hojoko, and more in her restaurant group that she co-owns with her husband Tim, her business partner and a James Beard Award-winning chef — knows a thing or two about this overlooked sake pairing. “Sake is a delicious and perfect pairing with many seafood dishes well beyond just Japanese sushi and sashimi,” she says. “From East to West Coast oysters to Gulf shrimp to Baja snapper, there is an unexpected sake match out there to be explored and enjoyed.”

Not sure how to pair sake with seafood? Start by familiarizing yourself with the different categories of sake. Sake categories are most easily differentiated by how much of the rice grain has been polished away. Junmai sake, for example, is polished to 70 percent of the grain, which gives it a rich, full body and imparts some umami flavors. The more grain you polish away, the lighter, and more elegant, the sake becomes; for example, honjozo, ginjo, and daijingo sakes are polished to between 70 percent or 50 percent of the grain.

With Cushman’s help, who has sampled sake from coast to coast, we’ve found the sake and seafood pairings in New York City you’ve never thought to try before — until now. Skip the white wine and shake up your usual order by trying a glass (or two!) of different sakes, like a clean and delicately floral junmai daiginjo with raw seafood, a rice-forward junmai with brothy shellfish, or even a supple unfiltered nigori alongside similarly buttery and meaty white fish. Here are the 11 restaurants to head to this weekend and try an unexpected pairing, led by Cushman’s sake expertise.

Learn more about sake and seafood pairings at foodandsake.com.

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Read Review |

o ya is a rare breed of restaurant that balances luxurious Japanese seafood with a vibrant, lively atmosphere. Their nouveau approach makes every meal feel memorably fun and experimental: Kumamoto oysters with watermelon pearls, local porgy with a miso made from spring peas, super-seasonal aname (fat greening fish) nigiri with a yuzu agridulce (Spanish for “sweet and sour”). Owner Nancy Cushman lends great breadth to the sake list, including hot options like the Mizuho junmai from Kenbishi and an ethereal Minowamon Junmai Daiginjo. Make sure to check for seasonal specials, either by the glass or bottle, like the fall-only Hiyaoroshi style, a mellow sake that is aged over the summer after its initial pasteurization.

Gentl & Hyers

At Covina, another New York outpost of Cushman’s restaurant group, the colorful interiors are an accurate preview to the menu’s bright, welcoming share plates and wood-fired entrees and pizza. Sunny Baja snapper ceviche transports you south of the border, while the smoke-kissed local black bass (Cajun style, with grilled lime) and tiger prawns are not to be missed. Two strong bottles from Hakkaisan (from Niigata, Japan) show sake’s diverse range, the crisp junmai ginjo especially perfect for meatier fishes and shellfish.

Amberjade Taylor

Seafood is the name of the game at Limani, with a list of specialties that stretch across oceans and nations. Live langoustines from Scotland with its unique lobster-and-scallop like flavor; meaty scallops perfectly marked on the grill; silky salmon sashimi with a touch of spice from Fresno chile; even hard-to-find bottarga (cured grey mullet roe) on toasty crostinis. Liven up your order of fresh oysters from the raw bar with a glass of crisp junmai daiginjo — their singular sake offering — and you’ll feel right at home rubbing elbows with the elite of Rockefeller Center.

Catch NYC

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Step into Meatpacking’s expansive, three-story Catch NYC for a seemingly endless selection of seafood options from chef Hung Huynh (of Top Chef fame). There are decadent raw bar towers of lobster, king crab, and ceviche to start, plus nigiri, rolls, assorted tataki (fish cooked and served rare), skewers, and whole fish too. The wine list is unsurprisingly giant, with plenty of sake options like the sparkling Awa from Hakkaisan — perfect for oysters —  to a snowy nigori (unfiltered sake) from Sho Chiku Bai, which is simply begging to be drunk with a spicy hand roll.

Courtesy of Catch NYC

The Clam

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A meal at bright, wood-lined The Clam in West Village feels like a daytrip to the beach. Chef Mike Price’s menu celebrates clams (of course) of all kinds, from Long Island steamers to littlenecks, with dishes like clam dip, fried clams, and spaghetti & clams, while also paying attention to its sea friends like the excellent flounder with peekytoe crab or sautéed monkfish with mussels. Three carefully selected sakes take center stage on beverage director David Guiliano’s menu: herbal and bright Sawahime Junmai Ginjo from Inoue Seikichi, earthy Sakuragawa Futsushu from Tsujizenbei Shoten, and a honjozo (sake that has additional distilled alcohol) from Shimaoka Shuzo.

Jon Selvey

Sake Bar Decibel

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There’s something furtively fascinating about Sake Bar Decibel, a long-time East Village staple that’s marked only with a glowing red “On Air” sign. The sake list is unfailingly thorough, segmented by type and most varieties available in 5-ounce, 16-ounce, and full-bottle sizes. Those unfamiliar with sake can also ease in with a few sake-tails, like the Sake Tini or the Rio (nigori with cranberry, lime, and apple). There’s no shortage of drinking food, either, with small bites like the addictive shrimp chips to full-on comfort meals like mentaiko ochazuke (spicy cod roe with rice, served in hot green tea).

Domo Domo

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If you’ve never equated seaweed with “shatteringly crispy,” a trip to Domo Domo will certainly change your mind. This specialty handroll restaurant has every filling you can dream of, from lobster to uni-and-wagyu, with a seaweed texture that is unparalleled. Their chef’s choice omakase menu (called “domokase,” a play on the restaurant’s name) is a stellar option for those interested in sampling everything on the menu, such as the fusion-y shiso pesto branzino nigiri and tobiko (flying fish roe) pasta or the classic miso eggplant and tender chawanmushi (savory egg custard). Pair your bites with a range of smooth sakes that won’t overpower the delicate sea flavors, such as ever-popular SOTO.

Sushi Azabu

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Tucked away in a basement in TriBeCa, Sushi Azabu has been quietly serving up some of New York’s best omakase menus since 2015. Head chef Hayashi Tomoyuki makes the tasting menu extra-special with options like the splurgeworthy toro (fatty tuna) and uni tasting, while interjecting fun dishes like foie gras chawanmushi or shirauo (ice fish) tempura into the a la carte menu. Ask the chefs for a paired flight of sake based on your choice of fish for the evening, and if you haven’t had enough sake by the end of the meal, you can also opt for their delectable sake cheesecake for dessert.

Jessica Nash
Read Review |

Five years in, Contra (and its next door sister, Wildair) are still going as strong as ever. The rotating, six-course tasting menu from chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian Von Hauske is seasonally forward and always surprising, with one current dish mingling tuna with umeboshi (Japanese preserved plum) and beans, another layering mussels with tomato and nasturtium. (Previously, their skate was also a favorite.) The beverage menu is a niche, far-reaching list with natural wines from well-known French regions to funky new varietals in Slovenia, plus curated sake finds you’ll likely not see anywhere else.

Courtesy of Contra

Yopparai

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Small-but-mighty Yopparai izakaya has been a perpetual favorite among oden (one-pot dishes simmered in dashi broth) seekers in NYC, where ingredients are neatly available a la carte, like hanpen (fish and yam cake) and satsuma-age (fried fish cake). The menu changes daily depending on what’s available, so seize the opportunity to order dishes like the grilled anago (saltwater eel, generally considered softer and lighter than its freshwater counterpart unagi) and ebi shinjo (fluffy shrimp and cod balls in dashi). Ask for owner and sake sommelier Gaku Shibata to guide you through pairings with their versatile list of 50+ varieties, which boasts a helpful “Sake Meter Value” that gives context for level of dryness.

Courtesy of Yopparai

Zenkichi

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This softly lit, tri-level Japanese brasserie feels like a hidden Tokyo gem, but is readily accessible just off the L train. Zenkichi’s seasonal omakase is always a delight (currently featuring melt-in-your-mouth Hokkaido scallop tempura), while the a la carte menu offers a roster of favorites, from the adventurous wasabi-cured raw octopus to the classic fresh tofu and grilled black cod. If you’re a sake enthusiast, the extensive sake list here (even longer than the food menu) will make your night, while newcomers can easily opt into the sake pairing or a flight of curated options to try a variety of small-batch options.

Boaz Arrad
This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

o ya

Read Review |
Gentl & Hyers

o ya is a rare breed of restaurant that balances luxurious Japanese seafood with a vibrant, lively atmosphere. Their nouveau approach makes every meal feel memorably fun and experimental: Kumamoto oysters with watermelon pearls, local porgy with a miso made from spring peas, super-seasonal aname (fat greening fish) nigiri with a yuzu agridulce (Spanish for “sweet and sour”). Owner Nancy Cushman lends great breadth to the sake list, including hot options like the Mizuho junmai from Kenbishi and an ethereal Minowamon Junmai Daiginjo. Make sure to check for seasonal specials, either by the glass or bottle, like the fall-only Hiyaoroshi style, a mellow sake that is aged over the summer after its initial pasteurization.

Gentl & Hyers

Covina

Amberjade Taylor

At Covina, another New York outpost of Cushman’s restaurant group, the colorful interiors are an accurate preview to the menu’s bright, welcoming share plates and wood-fired entrees and pizza. Sunny Baja snapper ceviche transports you south of the border, while the smoke-kissed local black bass (Cajun style, with grilled lime) and tiger prawns are not to be missed. Two strong bottles from Hakkaisan (from Niigata, Japan) show sake’s diverse range, the crisp junmai ginjo especially perfect for meatier fishes and shellfish.

Amberjade Taylor

Limani

Seafood is the name of the game at Limani, with a list of specialties that stretch across oceans and nations. Live langoustines from Scotland with its unique lobster-and-scallop like flavor; meaty scallops perfectly marked on the grill; silky salmon sashimi with a touch of spice from Fresno chile; even hard-to-find bottarga (cured grey mullet roe) on toasty crostinis. Liven up your order of fresh oysters from the raw bar with a glass of crisp junmai daiginjo — their singular sake offering — and you’ll feel right at home rubbing elbows with the elite of Rockefeller Center.

Catch NYC

Courtesy of Catch NYC

Step into Meatpacking’s expansive, three-story Catch NYC for a seemingly endless selection of seafood options from chef Hung Huynh (of Top Chef fame). There are decadent raw bar towers of lobster, king crab, and ceviche to start, plus nigiri, rolls, assorted tataki (fish cooked and served rare), skewers, and whole fish too. The wine list is unsurprisingly giant, with plenty of sake options like the sparkling Awa from Hakkaisan — perfect for oysters —  to a snowy nigori (unfiltered sake) from Sho Chiku Bai, which is simply begging to be drunk with a spicy hand roll.

Courtesy of Catch NYC

The Clam

Jon Selvey

A meal at bright, wood-lined The Clam in West Village feels like a daytrip to the beach. Chef Mike Price’s menu celebrates clams (of course) of all kinds, from Long Island steamers to littlenecks, with dishes like clam dip, fried clams, and spaghetti & clams, while also paying attention to its sea friends like the excellent flounder with peekytoe crab or sautéed monkfish with mussels. Three carefully selected sakes take center stage on beverage director David Guiliano’s menu: herbal and bright Sawahime Junmai Ginjo from Inoue Seikichi, earthy Sakuragawa Futsushu from Tsujizenbei Shoten, and a honjozo (sake that has additional distilled alcohol) from Shimaoka Shuzo.

Jon Selvey

Sake Bar Decibel

There’s something furtively fascinating about Sake Bar Decibel, a long-time East Village staple that’s marked only with a glowing red “On Air” sign. The sake list is unfailingly thorough, segmented by type and most varieties available in 5-ounce, 16-ounce, and full-bottle sizes. Those unfamiliar with sake can also ease in with a few sake-tails, like the Sake Tini or the Rio (nigori with cranberry, lime, and apple). There’s no shortage of drinking food, either, with small bites like the addictive shrimp chips to full-on comfort meals like mentaiko ochazuke (spicy cod roe with rice, served in hot green tea).

Domo Domo

If you’ve never equated seaweed with “shatteringly crispy,” a trip to Domo Domo will certainly change your mind. This specialty handroll restaurant has every filling you can dream of, from lobster to uni-and-wagyu, with a seaweed texture that is unparalleled. Their chef’s choice omakase menu (called “domokase,” a play on the restaurant’s name) is a stellar option for those interested in sampling everything on the menu, such as the fusion-y shiso pesto branzino nigiri and tobiko (flying fish roe) pasta or the classic miso eggplant and tender chawanmushi (savory egg custard). Pair your bites with a range of smooth sakes that won’t overpower the delicate sea flavors, such as ever-popular SOTO.

Sushi Azabu

Jessica Nash

Tucked away in a basement in TriBeCa, Sushi Azabu has been quietly serving up some of New York’s best omakase menus since 2015. Head chef Hayashi Tomoyuki makes the tasting menu extra-special with options like the splurgeworthy toro (fatty tuna) and uni tasting, while interjecting fun dishes like foie gras chawanmushi or shirauo (ice fish) tempura into the a la carte menu. Ask the chefs for a paired flight of sake based on your choice of fish for the evening, and if you haven’t had enough sake by the end of the meal, you can also opt for their delectable sake cheesecake for dessert.

Jessica Nash

Contra

Read Review |
Courtesy of Contra

Five years in, Contra (and its next door sister, Wildair) are still going as strong as ever. The rotating, six-course tasting menu from chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian Von Hauske is seasonally forward and always surprising, with one current dish mingling tuna with umeboshi (Japanese preserved plum) and beans, another layering mussels with tomato and nasturtium. (Previously, their skate was also a favorite.) The beverage menu is a niche, far-reaching list with natural wines from well-known French regions to funky new varietals in Slovenia, plus curated sake finds you’ll likely not see anywhere else.

Courtesy of Contra

Yopparai

Courtesy of Yopparai

Small-but-mighty Yopparai izakaya has been a perpetual favorite among oden (one-pot dishes simmered in dashi broth) seekers in NYC, where ingredients are neatly available a la carte, like hanpen (fish and yam cake) and satsuma-age (fried fish cake). The menu changes daily depending on what’s available, so seize the opportunity to order dishes like the grilled anago (saltwater eel, generally considered softer and lighter than its freshwater counterpart unagi) and ebi shinjo (fluffy shrimp and cod balls in dashi). Ask for owner and sake sommelier Gaku Shibata to guide you through pairings with their versatile list of 50+ varieties, which boasts a helpful “Sake Meter Value” that gives context for level of dryness.

Courtesy of Yopparai

Zenkichi

Boaz Arrad

This softly lit, tri-level Japanese brasserie feels like a hidden Tokyo gem, but is readily accessible just off the L train. Zenkichi’s seasonal omakase is always a delight (currently featuring melt-in-your-mouth Hokkaido scallop tempura), while the a la carte menu offers a roster of favorites, from the adventurous wasabi-cured raw octopus to the classic fresh tofu and grilled black cod. If you’re a sake enthusiast, the extensive sake list here (even longer than the food menu) will make your night, while newcomers can easily opt into the sake pairing or a flight of curated options to try a variety of small-batch options.

Boaz Arrad

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